George Steinbrenner

Today marks ten years since New York Yankees owner George M. Steinbrenner III passed away at the age of 80.

“The Boss” bought the team in 1973 from CBS for 10 million dollars. From Day 1 until the day he passed, he invested in his team, his city and the fans. The Yankees were an also-ran organization, it’s glory days of the 1950’s/early 1960’s were long gone. He made it a mission to make the Yankees winners within three years. He spent freely to add Catfish Hunter and Reggie Jackson as free agents.

It took exactly three years to make the Yankees winners. In 1976, the Bronx Bombers made it to the World Series, only to be swept by Pete Rose’s Cincinnati Reds and their “Big Red Machine”. Undeterred, the Yankees went back to the World Series in 1977 and ’78, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers both times. They faced them yet again in 1981, losing in six games.

Lean years followed, as the Yankees showed signs of aging. Steinbrenner worked to keep his team winning, however some free agent signings and trades weren’t panning out. He re-hired Billy Martin for 1983, brought him back early in 1985 and again in ’88. Martin was only a band-aid over a bigger problem. A rebuild of the organization was badly needed to replenish the farm system.

In 1990, Steinbrenner was suspended by then-Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent from day-to-day management for paying a gambler to dig up dirt on star outfielder Dave Winfield. This brought opportunity for GM Gene “Stick” Michaels to begin the rebuild. He responded, drafting the core of players who would eventually make the Yankees winners for more than a decade.

Although Steinbrenner’s suspension was to be permanent, “The Boss” was reinstated in 1993. Seeing the work Micheals put in to re-stock the farm system, he was less inclined to rule with the iron-fist he was accustomed to. The Yankees became winners again, winning titles in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009. The ’09 series win was especially meaningful, as it was the final World Series of Mr. Steinbrenner’s life. His son Hal, by then George’s successor, dedicated the title to his father, saying “This one’s for you!”

Hal Steinbrenner is less willing to spend freely the way his father did, but I’m guessing George was smiling down from the heavens last December when the Yankees signed Gerrit Cole to a 324 million dollar deal.

George Steinbrenner’s 37 years of Yankees ownership put the team back on the map and took it into the stratosphere. His family’s ownership is the gold-standard of the way sports owners should run their teams.

I hope you are resting comfortably, Boss. I can’t believe you’ve been gone ten years.

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Despite Injuries, Yankees Have Depth to Overcome

After an injury-riddled 2019 season where they used 54 different players, one would think the New York Yankees 2020 season would be better in terms of health simply by default.

Concerned about the alarming number of injuries and treatment of them, the team overhauled the strength and conditioning department, hiring Eric Cressey as Director of Player Health and Performance.

Longtime Yankees trainer Steve Donahue, with the team since 1979, has been reassigned as Director of Medical Services in the restructuring.

So far in 2020, the “Medical Gods” still aren’t being too kind to the Yankees. As of this writing (March 6), the team has lost starting pitcher Luis Severino (Tommy John surgery) for the season. James Paxton (lower back surgery) will be out until May at the earliest, OF/DH Giancarlo Stanton strained his right calf doing defensive drills last week and may miss the first week of the season. It has been reported Stanton has resumed running, so he may be able to ramp things up again soon.  Aaron Judge has been dealing with pain in his shoulder/chest area, and today it was revealed he has a fracture in one of his ribs.

It was also revealed Judge originally suffered this injury in a game last September 18 on a diving catch attempt, and felt a “crack and a pop”. Preliminary tests were performed and Judge received a cortisone injection.

More on Judge’s injury can be read via Yankees beat writer Bryan Hoch’s Twitter feed.

Despite these injuries, the Yankees have depth to overcome. Even with the early losses of Stanton and Judge (and loss of CF Aaron Hicks for first half of 2020), the team has Mike Tauchman, Clint Frazier and Estevan Florial on the 40 man roster to go along with Brett Gardner. Miguel Andújar has looked promising in left-field, to the point where manager Aaron Boone says he is comfortable continuing to give him reps.  Also in the mix is 27 year old Zack Granite, a 2013 draftee from the Twins organization. The lefty hitter spent last season in Nashville, the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers.

For the starting rotation, Masahiro Tanaka, J.A. Happ and newly-signed Gerrit Cole have looked very good in the early going. Jordan Montgomery looks like he’s back to his 2017 pre-surgery form and youngsters Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt and Deivi Garcia are in competition with holdover Luis Cessa to nail down the 5th starter spot.

Yankees GM Brian Cashman makes it a point to stock up on depth, and it served them well in 2019, still winning 103 games. They look poised to make another run at a World Series title in 2020.

Mike Fiers was the First to Speak-up but not the Last

Unless you have been living under a rock since mid-November, you have heard about the 2017 Houston Astros using technology to steal signs to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents.

When former Astro and current Oakland A’s staring pitcher Mike Fiers went on record with The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal, speaking out on how his former team stole catchers’s signs, it turned the baseball world on it’s ear (the Drellich/Rosenthal piece can be read here).

Needless to say, Fiers’s former teammates are upset that he broke an unwritten code of clubhouse culture. Major league clubhouses are sacred. What goes on in a clubhouse is supposed to stay in a clubhouse. Fiers may never be fully trusted again by some current and future teammates because he went against the grain, letting team doings become public.

On social media, the reaction has been mixed. Many folks are calling Fiers a hero (including this writer), and many are destroying him, calling him a rat, a bad teammate and many words unsuitable to repeat here. Reactions from many ex-players, including Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez had this to say:

 

Mike Fiers was the first former Astros player to speak out, but I don’t think he will be the last. Players are human beings, and many human beings have consciences. Fiers proved he has one by going public. But he can’t be the only one who feels the same way about his team’s cheating. Immediately after Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, former Astro Gerrit Cole distanced himself from the team.

This is certainly not to say Cole will say anything at all regarding the Astros’s indiscretions, but it makes me question whether he agreed with what his former teammates were doing.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the current Houston squad was cleared of any wrongdoing, but let’s remember how Jose Altuve jumped all over a slider thrown by New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to end the ALCS, and had a look of terror on his face as he told his team not to rip off his jersey. He did that for a reason.

Two days ago, Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a member of the Astros from 2012-18, gave something of an apology, saying he is “sorry for the situation”, but also pointed out they didn’t cheat every game.

But make no mistake, Keuchel wasn’t happy the aforementioned “clubhouse code of silence” was broken.

 

This isn’t over by any stretch, and I think as time goes by, more people will shed light on what really happened. It’s just a matter of how long and how many people have a conscious. Stay tuned.